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Home / Livestock

Rabies: Common signs and how it is spread

Rabies is a fatal inflammation of the central nervous system caused by a virus called Rhabdovirus. It occurs worldwide. It affects all warm-blooded animals:  man, domestic and wild animals included. It however does not affect birds. 

Many people are unaware of the fatal dangers associated with this killer disease. People in rural areas keep dogs both as pets and for security yet they have not had their dogs vaccinated.

How it is spread

Rabies is transmitted via the saliva of an infected animal, usually through its bite.

Rabid animals usually excrete the virus in their saliva 3 days before they show clinical signs and then throughout the course of the disease which is normally less than 2 weeks. 

Transmission usually occurs when infected saliva is deposited in a bite wound. Inhalation of infected droplets in bat infested caves and by the ingestion of meat of an infected carrier are the less common routes of transmission.

Common Signs of Rabies

The course of the clinical disease ranges from 3 days to 2 weeks.

There are three clinical phases: pre-symptomatic, excitative and paralytic. 

A. Before symptoms occur (pre-symptomatic phase) there is a change in behavior; friendly dogs become aggressive, fierce dogs become friendly. Affected cattle stray away from the herd. 

B. The excitative phase is referred to as "Furious" Rabies. In the excitative phase:

  1. Voice changes occur.  This depends on the species of the infected animal and may include roaring, howling, and bleating. Infected people may bark like dogs 
  2. Animals appear to be hypersensitive, restless, and aggressive and may bite or attack without warning
  3. Dogs often have staring expression and often drool saliva 
  4. They may attack any moving object and break their teeth when eating objects.
  5. Cattle may stare at people then start charging at them.
  6. Donkeys may mutilate themselves biting and chewing their bodies to such an extent they occasionally even disembowel themselves 
  7. Cats become extremely aggressive, attacking without provocation.

C. The paralytic phase is referred to as "Dumb" Rabies. In the paralytic phase: 

  1. Cattle may walk unsteadily and strain unproductively as though trying to pass dung, due to decreased sensation of the hindquarters
  2. They bellow hoarsely, continuously, sometimes for hours on end 
  3. They drool saliva 
  4. They are unable to eat or drink 
  5. Dogs often have paralysis of the lower jaw, with a dry, darkened tongue
  6. Eventually, the animal becomes progressively paralyzed, cannot eat nor drink and then dies. 

 Treatment of Rabies

 There is no treatment for rabies. It is not advisable to try to treat animals infected with rabies because of the exposed dangers of handling such animals.

Prevention and control protocols of Rabies

  1. All owned dogs must be regularly vaccinated. It is advisable to conduct a mandatory vaccination of all domestic dogs. Since rabies is regarded as notifiable disease, the campaign should be enforced by relevant veterinary act and a breach of the act should be punished by the law. 
  2. Regular baiting of stray dogs in the urban and rural areas: After every vaccination campaign against rabies, all stray dogs and other dogs that have not been vaccinated should be baited in accordance with an enforcing act.
  3. Avoid contact with any dogs and cats which do not have owners 
  4. Keep stray dogs and jackals away from livestock


  • Anyone bitten by a rabid animal or who has had close contact with one, whether dog, cow, donkey, sheep or cat MUST receive a course of post-exposure anti-rabies vaccinations. As soon as possible.
  • The Kenyan law requires that all dogs must be vaccinated against Rabies 
  • Rabies is a notifiable disease and therefore any suspected case of rabies should be reported immediately.

Author: Dr. Paul R. N. Kangethe (BVM, UoN)

Email: [email protected]


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